International -- Readers Report
GE's New CEO Can Lead First--and Light Up the Room Later (int'l edition)
Lack of charisma won't be a serious obstacle for W. James McNerney Jr. in replacing CEO Jack Welch ("Running the house that Jack built," The Corporation, Oct. 2). I have three points to make: First, you need the charisma of a leader especially in times when a company is facing big changes, as General Electric Co. was in the 1980s. GE is now a well-run machine, and it seems to me that there won't be major shocks in the future.
Second, if you weren't born with something, it doesn't mean you can't learn it. Now, we can see an election struggle between two candidates for the Presidency of the U.S.; I'm sure that both candidates work with speech coaches. The candidate who gets the post of CEO of GE during the next 15 years can spend half a year training for better speaking skills.
Third, advancing new ideas and projects within the company is not the work of only one person, but of a team. This involves everything from making presentations to collecting information from workers. I call this work "internal PR" and assert that the charisma of an individual leader, although important, is not decisive.
MoscowReturn to top
The Iraqi People Need Humanitarian Aid--Period (int'l edition)
In "Just a little relief for Iraq" (International Outlook, Oct. 16), the writer falls into the trap of equating Saddam Hussein with Iraq. Planes carrying humanitarian relief to Iraq directly benefit the civilians of Iraq, who are dying at the rate of 5,000 children per month, according to U.N. data.
We should instead applaud the efforts of humanitarians in France, Russia, Jordan, and Yemen. They are fighting the statistic that most casualties of conflict are now civilians, whereas a century ago, most of the dead were combatants. I find this chilling.
Arlington, Mass.Return to top
Why Web Phones Aren't the Next Big Thing (int'l edition)
I frequently read articles such as "Telecom tremors" (Asian Edition Cover Story, Oct. 16), which proclaim Japan's success with Web-enabled phones by citing such statistics as NTT DoCoMo's 13 million i-mode subscribers. But few observers bother to mention what percentage of those 13 million subscribers are actually using the Web or e-mail portion of the phone. Most of the business people I have spoken with in Japan use only the traditional voice capability of their mobile phone. The Web/e-mail capability is primarily used by teenagers and college kids.
Honestly, who has the time to type out an e-mail with a 10-key keypad? Also, bear in mind that most Japanese people ride trains or subways to work or school so: (a) they can safely stare at their keypad to type messages, and (b) they can discreetly communicate without others overhearing their conversation. In the U.S., where most people drive to work, an e-mail-capable phone is practically worthless.
Despite all the hype, Web-enabled phones will not be a panacea in the U.S. For every successful new device, there has to be the "killer app." E-mail, stock quotes, and Mickey Mouse pictures are not the killer apps for Web-enabled phones.
Atherton, Calif.Return to top
A Giant Dam Won't Boost Uganda's Poor (int'l edition)
"Friend of the poor--or evil capitalist?" (People, Oct. 9) contends that the proposed Bujagali Dam in Uganda will help the rural poor get electricity and enable them to stop relying on wood for cooking. A report funded by the World Bank shows that this idealistic scenario is not likely to happen. The Bank's 1996 study states that "no more than 7% of [Uganda's] total population can afford unsubsidized electricity. It is unrealistic to think that more than a fraction of the rural population could be reached by a conventional, extend-the-grid approach. A more promising course is to rely instead, on "alternative" approaches to electrification.
Uganda certainly needs power--the questions are: how much, what type, and when. Large-scale dams will feed into an inefficient national grid that at best can only reach a fraction of Ugandans (just 5% of the total population are currently connected), and the development of dams will not likely lead to serious expansion of the grid.
A recent Ugandan parliamentary study estimated the price of electricity from Bujagali Dam at 12 cents (U.S.) per kilowatt hour--a huge increase from current rates. The project poses major economic risks for Uganda, which must pay AES Corp., a U.S. company, for all of Bujagali's electricity, even if the power is not produced--because of low river flows, and even if the national utility cannot sell the power.
Scientists also predict that East Africa may face longer, more severe droughts from global climate change, which could reduce the dam's power output. Coupled with the fact that the dam's design is based on a highly optimistic "high flow" scenario for the Nile, this dam may prove to be a financial boondoggle, its construction made possible only by the socialization of private risk.
Berkeley, Calif.Return to top